My family took a trip to Hawaii for spring break in 2021. It was our first time visiting the state of Hawaii. We had 11 days to visit Hawaii from the east coast of the US. Travelling took about two days, so we had 9 days to be tourists in Maui.
Originally I planned to spend my 50th birthday in Hawaii, the last US state to visit in my 50 before 50 quest. If COVID has taught me anything, it is that plans can get ruined quickly. My husband and I are both vaccinated; we all really needed to get away after the past year, and Hawaii is a cautious state. So we decided to move it up on our list and visit now.
Why Did We Pick Maui to Spend Our Time On?
I am a huge fan of the ocean, volcanoes, and sea turtles, which was my draw to visiting the Hawaiian Islands.
I’m not too fond of crowds or big cities, so Oahu wasn’t high on my list for my first visit to Hawaii.
I would love to visit rural and lush Kaui, but it tends to be rainier, and we were traveling in a rainy season, so we figured Kaui would be better to visit in the winter.
Originally we planned to fly into Maui, then spend the rest of the time on the Big Island, but travel restrictions would make this complicated, and we wanted simple. Our boys wanted to have a lot to do, so Maui seemed like the best choice.
How Many Days in Maui?
As I mentioned originally, we had only planned to spend four days in Maui. That would have been quite a mistake. There is so much to do in Maui I would suggest visiting at least a week. Even with 9 days, I feel as though I just scratched the surface and would love to return and spend more time doing many things again and go on a few long hikes. I would also love more time to spend whole days at the beach.
A Beginner’s Guide to Maui
- Maui is the second-largest of the Hawaiian islands, at 727 square miles.
- The largest peak on Maui is Mount Haleakala, a dormant volcano.
- All of Maui’s 80 beaches are public and accessible to anyone, even those in front of exclusive resorts. For a very few, such as the black sand beach near Hana, you need a reservation for parking.
- There are beaches of many colors- red, white, gold and red.
- Maui’s origins are volcanic. Although it hasn’t had an active eruption for at least 400 years, you will see ample evidence of its volcanic past.
- Maui is shaped like a number 8 on its side, with the smaller side of the eight being facing north and containing Ka’anapali and Hana sitting somewhere around the bottom.
- Because it is ultimately two mountains peeking out from the ocean, there are two big mountains surrounded by the shoreline. That means almost everywhere you are has a water view!
- The sides of the island are referred to as windward and leeward. The leeward side is protected from the winds by the mountains. It also tends to get less rain. Kaanapali, Wailea, and Kihei are on the leeward side. The road to Hana and Pā’ia are on the windward side of the island.
- Because of the mountains and winds, you will find very different weather depending on where you are on the island. If it is lousy where you are, consider driving somewhere else.
- The weather also tends to change quickly. You can often wait an hour, and a rainy sky will become sunny with a gorgeous rainbow.
- Even though Maui is smaller than the state of Rhode Island, it takes a long time to drive anywhere due to the hilly, winding roads and mountains in the way.
- If you don’t want to stay around your resort, you will need to rent a car.
- There are many green sea turtles (honu) on Maui, even a few hawksbill sea turtles. You can easily view many during your time. They are still a threatened or endangered species, and it is illegal to get within ten feet of them. Be respectful to these peaceful creatures.
- You can easily see a few islands from many spots in Maui. From the west side, you can see Lana’i, Molokai, the Molokini Crater, and Kaho’olawe. On a clear day, you can see the Big Island from the south side.
Where to Stay in Maui
Each of the areas of Maui has its own personalities and positives and negatives. I will present a few options to you, but there are so many options.
Kihei is an energetic town with many options for food and activity. It is also the most convenient spot to access the rest of the island, as it is centrally located. There are many Airbnb condo options here, but not as many resorts on the beach. It gets relatively less rain, which is a huge plus. If you are looking for a getaway from civilization, this may not be your best choice. However, if you are looking for the most convenient place to stay, look no further.
This is a very upscale, verdant, cliff-filled area just south of Kihei.
Located on the outskirts of Kihei on cliffs overlooking the ocean, if you are up for a splurge, consider staying in this Waldorf-Astoria property. The Waldorf-Astoria that we stayed in overlooking Edinburgh Castle was one of my favorite sleeps of my life.
West Maui includes Lahaina, Kaannapali and Kapalua. It is lush but is not very rainy and has excellent snorkeling. It is fairly far away from everything. It feels like you are on a distant island from mainland USA.
We stayed in Kaanapali because we wanted a room on a beautiful beach with great snorkeling and little rain. We loved this area and would definitely stay here again. You can walk from your room straight off the beach and get some of the best snorkeling on the island. The only negative is that it is far from everything. We loved the nearby town of Lahaina as well. This area reminds me of the Hotel Zone in Cancun, Mexico, with large resorts with pools along a flat, white sand beach.
Being a family of five, a villa with separate rooms is a necessity for us. We loved that our villa had a kitchen, grills, and in-room washer and dryer. Although there are not many food choices on the property, there is a shuttle between this hotel and all the other Kaanapali Beach hotels. My only criticism of the property is the botanical design. Although beautiful, the tall trees impede the “oceanview” rooms. If you really want an ocean view, you need to book an “oceanfront” room. The room price is reasonable for what you get.
If we didn’t need a villa, I would stay at the Sheraton. It sits perched on Black Rock which has incredible snorkeling and a sunset ritual.
We loved this hippie-vibe town along the east coast of Maui, right at the beginning of the Hana Highway. There are many great restaurants and beaches to choose from here. We especially loved Flatbread Company but also heard good things about Paia Fish Market. If you plan to spend a lot of time exploring the road to Hana and Upcountry Maui, this may be a good choice. Because it is on the windward side of the island, the waves tend to be bigger.
If you have time to spend two days exploring the road to Hana, it would be ideal to spend one night in Hana. Many native people lived in this far-flung town in the 1950s, but the population is now less than 1,000.
There are few hotels here. You can check out the Hana-Maui Resort or check Airbnb.
One Week in Maui, A Maui Itinerary
Day One in Maui
The first day you arrive, you will likely only have a half-day in Maui. Check into your hotel and get acclimated. Be sure to see your first Maui sunset. They are quite impressive. They last a long time and tend to be extra colorful, perhaps because of the volcanic ash in the air.
I know this will sound strange, but the best poke bowl we had in Hawaii was by the airport in a liquor store. It was so good, we ate here three times. It only offers takeout, giving the perfect excuse to have a small picnic or pull over by a random spot by the ocean to eat. You will find yourself pulling over at random spots often. And all the food in Hawaii is expensive.
But I digress. You will find the poke in the rear of the store at a deli counter.
Another food that you will encounter often and won’t get enough of is shave ice. Although Ululani’s wasn’t our favorite shave ice shop, it is ubiquitous, and there is a kiosk near the airport.
Watch the Sunset
Day 2 in Maui
Explore Kihei, Makena, and Wailea
We started our day at Maluaka Beach, also known as turtle town, because seeing a sea turtle swimming in the wild was a huge goal in Maui. Ironically this was the only time we were in the water that we did not see a turtle, but others around us did. I have seen sea turtles in the wild in Tulum but have never seen as many turtles as I did in our week in Maui.
Park in the free lot, then take a short walk along the road to the beach. The best snorkeling and most turtles are on the far side of the beach from the lot.
Walk the Grounds of the Keawala’i Congregational Church
This active stone church built in 1832 sits on the shoreline and has a lovely graveyard and many birds.
Visit the Upscale Shops at Wailea
Have Lunch on the Patio at Tommy Bahamas, followed by dessert at Lappert’s. The ice creams center around local coffee and are extraordinary.
Walk the Wailea Oceanfront Boardwalk Trail
This 3.5-mile paved trail meanders along the beach. We picked the trail up at Ulea Beach, which has free parking and bathrooms. If you want more snorkeling, this is also a great place. My boys actually did a SCUBA dive here. To snorkel, walk in off the beach to the right.
End Your Day with The Best Shaved Ice on Maui
We tried a lot of shave ice while on Maui. The owner of Peace Love and Shave Ice told us that we were about to have the best shave ice, and he was right. We loved it so much we ended up making our way there three times.
Everyone in my family loved this shave ice best, and we all ordered different things. My oldest son and I agree on our favorite flavor combination- If You Like Piña Colada, which combines coconut and pineapple with coconut cream ice cream on the bottom. Luca also added a snowcap and dried coconut on the top.
Day 3 in Maui
Explore Southwest Maui
The most recent volcanic eruptions happened in this area of the island about 400 years ago.
Hike the Hoapili Trail
This 5.5-mile trail was traveled by Hawaiian royalty. At times parts of it are closed to protect breeding animals. It is long and dry without much shade. There are no spots to refill drinking water, and you will want good shoes to deal with the pointed lava rocks.
I was so happy to have my Olukai shoes with me on Maui. They are waterproof yet have a good grip and look nice enough I could wear them anywhere. I am an Amazon affiliate, so I will receive a commission if you get them through this link. You can also buy them in the Whaler shopping center in Lahaina.
Snorkel off the Lava Beaches
You can snorkel the La Parouse Bay, which is at the very end of Makena Alanui Road. We only had half a day for this excursion because two of my kids were getting their SCUBA certification. I will write about that later, so stay tuned.
Partially because of this time constraint and partially because of the advice of a forest ranger, we didn’t quite go all the way down to La Parouse. We did our hike and snorkel from the Ahihi-Kinau Natural Area Reserve. It also contains some of the King’s Trail, but the ranger told us that we would see more fish because it is a nature sanctuary where no fishing is allowed. The snorkeling was easy and beautiful but definitely requires water shoes.
If you are Headed to Mama’s Stop at Ho’okipa Beach Park
If you aren’t and you are a turtle fan, be sure to visit another evening. They don’t know why, but hundreds of giant sea turtles come to shore to rest here every evening. Enter on the far side of the parking lot and park near the main beach. Walk to the water and look to your right. The turtles blend right in with the huge rocks. You will see a sign keeping you far enough away from the turtles, but you will be close enough to see these magnificent creatures.
Spoil Yourself with a Fancy Dinner on the Water
We visited Mama’s Fish House this evening. The fish dishes and food are perfect. To get a reservation around sunset, you need to book many months in advance. If you can’t get in here, some other ideas are Pacific’o, Dukes, and The Plantation House. Before I visited, I was concerned with spending the day out in the water and needing to eat before heading back to the room. Maui is very laid back, and most beaches have public showers. I felt comfortable in every restaurant just throwing a sundress over my bathing suit and brushing my hair.
Day 4 on Maui
Explore the Molokini Crater
The Molokini Crater lies between Maui and Kaho’olawe. You must take a boat out to snorkel or SCUBA this crescent-shaped volcanic crater. We SCUBA dove the reef within the crater, and it was the clearest spot on all our underwater time. An amiable and rare hawksbill turtle even made friends with us the crater.
We dove from the Maui Diamond, and our experience was perfect. I can’t say enough about Maddie, Joe, and the crew.
This dive was actually my sons’ certification dive. Read on about how they trained to SCUBA dive and got certified in Maui!
Old Lahaina Luau
If you are in Hawaii for the first time, you should be sure to attend a Laua. Not only will you get to eat a traditional Hawaiian meal, but you also learn about the culture of the native people through stories and traditional dance. We attended Old Lāhainā Lūʻau, which got great reviews from everyone I spoke to. It happens on a beautiful beach at sunset and requires reservations.
Day 5 in Maui
This was one of our favorite days in Maui. Hawaii’s past is deeply rooted in agriculture. Much of this agriculture has stopped as land and jobs move over to tourism. This island which used to be covered by sugar cane fields now has empty grassy fields. But I came across two farms that are still working and offer tours. They were kind enough to host my family, and we are so thankful that they did. I will write longer posts about each visit in the future, so stay tuned.
This visit into Maui Gold’s pineapple fields was our first experience of upcountry Maui. You feel like you are in a different world. When I asked my youngest son what he was most excited about before visiting, eating tropical fruits was his answer. This was the perfect way to spend a day with him and was one of his favorite parts of visiting Maui. We learned about the fruit and ate the sweetest, most decadent pineapple we have ever had, picked right from the fields.
Not only did we get to see cocoa plants in the wild and engage all our senses in learning about my favorite food, but we also learned about this respect-worthy company that was opened to serve local charities and provide jobs. You can book a chocolate tasting in town to try the rich and delicious chocolate infused with fruit flavors of Maui or get out into the fields with the VIP tour. Our tasting happened in a luxurious treehouse overlooking the cocoa fields and the ocean.
Day 6 in Maui
When I was asked people to recommend what to do on Maui, about 3/4ths of people said to drive the road to Hana. The other quarter strongly suggested against it. Why the difference? Now that I have experienced it I understand and I will write a whole post on why and how I think you should spend at least one day on this highway that is 45 miles long, has 59 bridges, and 600 hairpin turns. Stay tuned for that post.
Day 7 in Maui
Haleakalā is a 10,000-foot dormant volcano that forms the southern part of Maui. Spend a day exploring it in some way or another. I will also write a whole post on that.
Day 8 in Maui
Day 9 in Maui
Like many people, we flew out in the afternoon, so had the morning to spend saying A hui hou (until we meet again) to Maui.
We started by revisiting a breakfast favorite we had found, Betsy’s Beach Cafe in Lahaina. Chilaquiles are one of our favorite dishes and the banana macadamia pancakes with coconut syrup are the perfect Hawaiin breakfast. We also really loved the quirky Java Jazz, but it lacks a waterview.
Iao Valley State Park
We spent our last moments on Maui at this calm, lush, and peaceful valley which is close to the airport. Well, it felt very calm to me with its babbling river, gardens, and looming green mountains, but it was the location of one of the largest battles in the Hawaiian war over the islands. There is a cost both for parking and to enter the park.
Food to Try on Maui
Car Rental on Maui
We couldn’t have don’t this itinerary without a car. Everything in Maui is very far away. Originally I had booked through a large rental car company. Then I had seen on a helpful Maui Facebook page to look into local companies. We ended up getting a car for much less money from Maui Car Rentals. They made everything very easy for us and we were very happy with the rental. The car wasn’t at all fancy, but fit my large family’s needs perfectly.
In conclusion, we spent our first week on Maui and loved every second of it. We adored the varied landscapes, volcanic, farms and lush valleys. We had many memorable turtle and wildlife encounters and enjoyed every sunset together.
What is your favorite thing about Maui? If you have any questions please leave them in the comment section.